|A fuzzy, round bumble bee hovers over its next nectar source, a vibrant purple coneflower. The bumble's loud buzzing was persistent...and one of the wonderful sounds of summer.|
I don't know a lot about bumble bees, so that evening I got out my "Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America" to see what species this bumble was. From the photo and description, I'm deducing Common Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens). Bombus impatiens' field marks include a thorax covered in yellow pile (or fuzz) with a small bald spot on top, and an abdomen with only the first segment covered in yellow pile...
here for an earlier post that explains how pollen baskets work. Click here for other ways to tell female and male bumble bees apart. Another difference between a male and female bumble bee is the stinger. Females have them, males don't. Unlike honey bees, who die after stinging because they have a barbed stinger that is left in the victim, bumble bees can sting more than once because their stinger is smooth. Click here for more info on a bumble bee's stinger.
|...let's zoom in a bit to look at the ocelli (three primitive eyes) on the top of his head. These eyes help the bumble bee see ultraviolet light, and are also used for stability while flying by helping the bee detect the horizon. To read more about ocelli, click here. To see the ocelli on a grasshopper (from an older post), click here.|
|Bumble bees have long tongues encased in a hard sheath. The tongue is reddish, and the tip is hairy and feathery. This modification helps the bumble bee lap up nectar. It is not a sucking tube like a butterfly's proboscis. (Source: "The Natural History of Bumblebees, a Sourcebook for Investigations," by Carol A. Kearns and James D. Thomson, pg 30.) For a close-up photo of the feathery tongue, click here.|
Bees in the late summer sun
Drone their song
Of yellow moons
Trimming black velvet,
Droning, droning a sleepysong.
|The yellow pile looks as soft as a bunny's fur, but the fuzzy "hairs" are actually finely branched setae. The branching helps pollen stick to the hairs, which function more like our skin in that they contain sensors that let the bee feel wind speed and direction, or detect chemicals. For more on bumblebee hair, click here. For a quick overview of the differences between mammalian hair (keratin) and insect "hair" or setae (chitin), click here.|
|South winds jostle them--|
Drink, and are gone--